Stuart Adamson, founder of the bands Big Country, The Raphaels, and Skids, was a brilliant songwriter both musically and lyrically. He and his band Big Country had numerous charting singles and albums internationally. He was totally into motorcycles and racing. He was a strong supporter of organizations like Greenpeace and often wrote songs about choosing peace over war. He had two children. He also dealt with severe depression and challenges with alcohol.
On November 26, 2001, Stuart was reported missing by his wife Melanie who had filed for divorce that day; they had been estranged for six weeks at the time of his disappearance. He had started drinking again after a decade of sobriety and was facing a driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge in Tennessee where he lived.
After an online plea to fans through the Big Country website and email list when Stuart went missing (I remember this strongly and kept my eye open for him in New Mexico), Stuart’s body was found on December 16, 2001, in his hotel room in Honolulu, Hawaii. He had hanged himself in the closet of the hotel room.
An empty wine bottle was found on the floor of his hotel room. His blood-alcohol content (BAC) at the time of his death was 0.279%. The legal BAC limit for DWI in Hawaii is 0.08%.
He was only 43.
I never wrote anything about Stuart’s passing at the time of his death. Most of my energy was going towards the stupid divorce and doing everything I could to stay sane for my son. What it did is shock me into looking at my own behavior. I needed to stop binge drinking when I was severely depressed. What good was I to my kid if I’m permanently not around any longer?
These benders often led to psychosis and I have shared these stories of psychosis – minus the binge drinking – often when giving public presentations, particularly at Turquoise Lodge Hospital when presenting the “Laugh It Off” education program. It’s easy to make light of the psychosis now for jokes because in retrospect what I did during these psychotic episodes is absolutely ludicrous. At the time of my episodes, though, it was intensely serious and everything but funny.
I must share that I never addressed my binge drinking as a mental health problem until I started performing “Laugh It Off” at Turquoise Lodge Hospital here in Albuquerque; THL provides detox and rehab services for substance challenges and co-occuring. The folks who are inpatient that we present to are a new group of peers to me, and hearing their stories during the support group part of “Laugh It Off” helps me face the problem I had (and can have once again if not aware and diligent) and gives me courage to talk about my binge drinking without fear of judgment or labeling.
This is the first time I’ve shared the story of my binge drinking to an audience outside Turquoise Lodge Hospital. It feels great being able to share a challenge I never faced – or recognized – openly and freely.
Music is incredibly important to me, both for enjoyment and for my mental wellness. I had lost one of my favorite songwriters and realized how tenuous life can be when combining mental health challenges with alcohol. Stuart’s passing completely changed my decisions when it came to binge drinking. I found healthier, successful ways to cope with my severe depression episodes.
I think it was the parallels I saw in our lives that really kicked my ass emotionally. Stuart was a husband going through a rough divorce period. I was a husband going through a rough divorce period. Stuart was a father to two sons. I’m also a father to a great son, Scott (he is my first and most important motivation to stay healthy}. Stuart was severely depressed and was using alcohol to cope with the pain. I was severely depressed and was using alcohol to cope with the pain. With this plethora of parallels starkly evident, Stuart became an unintentional inspiration to look for healthier ways to cope with the pain of severe depression.
I’m very happy to say I’ve found a couple of fistfuls of coping tools, mindfulness skills, and just sheer strength of awareness if ever I become so despondent again. And learning there was another peer voice in me discovered by my advocacy work at Turquoise Lodge Hospital is a very welcome confluence of – until recently – separate parts of my life and my recovery journey.
I’ve chosen a selection of Stuart’s songs to feature here. Needless to say, I was a dedicated fan of Stuart and Big Country ever since their first release “Fields of Fire” in 1983. This selection I feel is a fine, broad cross-section of his many styles of songwriting during his career.
Rest well, Stuart.
Fields of Fire
In a Big Country
Where the Rose is Sown
Tall Ships Go
Flame of the West
One Great Thing
Hold the Heart
King of Emotion
Broken Heart (Thirteen Valleys)
Peace In Our Time
I Could Be Happy Here
Heart of the World
We’re Not In Kansas
All Go Together
Pink Marshmallow Moon
What Are You Working For
Far From Me To You
God’s Great Mistake
Message of Love
John Wayne’s Dream
Driving To Demascus